Television sitcoms are often hi-jacked by secondary characters. Karen and Jack eventually took over Will and Grace. Penelope Keith stole The Good Life after a couple of series, and Lesley Joseph continues to shamelessly upstage Quirke & Robson in Birds of a Feather. But stealing the show from the stars doesn’t usually happen as quickly as episode one.
Vic Reeves & Bob Mortimer’s new sitcom House of Fools (BBC 2) is already Matt Berry’s show. Right from day one. It’s only funny when his character Beef is on, and when he’s off screen we simply sit and wait for his next entrance.
I’d go as far as to say that his screen presence, comic timing and sheer, over-powering “Berry-ness” make the old troopers from Shooting Stars look a little like they’re struggling to keep up, and Berry’s casting in this supposed Vic & Bob vehicle makes the whole thing feel uncomfortably uneven and a little poorly judged.
Reeves and Mortimer are the masters of “loose”. Their Big Night Out in the early nineties revolutionised light entertainment on British television, and the more under-rehearsed and shambolic it was, the funnier it got.
Unfortunately, sitcom is a much trickier creature to handle, needing far more pace and better drilled performances to successfully land its laughs.
Although seemingly chaotic and disorganised, The Young Ones (to which this will no doubt be compared) was a very tightly structured, well rehearsed, and brilliantly acted show. But with the best will in the world, Vic and Bob are simply not practised enough actors to deliver the breakneck pace that’s needed by a primetime sitcom, recorded in front of a live studio audience.
You could have driven a bus between most of the lines of dialogue in this show, and the pair seemed to be concentrating so hard to get through it that there was no room at all for their usual trademark corpsing and ad-libbing.
Dan Skinner (Angelos Epithemiou from Shooting Stars) plays Vic’s escaped convict brother Bosh and Morgana Robinson plays their randy neighbour Julie. Both do their best to lend a hand, but their dialogue is so hastily thrown together that neither has a hope in hell of making any real impact.
Luckily Vic and Bob have enough loyal fans for this total step in the wrong direction to go unnoticed, and as long as the boys have Mr Berry on board the series will no doubt continue to deliver big laughs.
Reeves and Mortimer also have enough friends in high places at the Beeb to be protected from the truth, and a second series has probably already been commissioned despite the glaring problems with this pilot.
I look forward to a brand new series of Shooting Stars, and the opportunity to see Vic and Bob firmly back in their comfort zone.